Tonight’s trip to Suffolk will give us an opportunity to equal our best ever performance in the League Cup as victory would give us a place in the quarter finals for just the sixth time in our history. It’s a competition that has never been particularly kind to us although we do have the distinction of scoring its first ever goal in the inaugural season of 1960-61…
Maurice Cook put first division Fulham in front in a First Round tie at Bristol Rovers on Monday 26 September 1960. The game at Eastville kicked off at 7.15 pm before any of the other ties which meant Cook’s strike put his name in the history books. However, in true Fulhamish fashion we also managed to become the first club to lose a League Cup tie as the second division side came back to beat us 2-1 in front of a very healthy gate of 20,022.
The competition took a while to establish itself with the early finals being held over two legs. The first Wembley final took place in 1967 when third division Queens Park Rangers shocked top flight West Brom by coming from 2 down to win 3-2. Fulham old boys Jim Langley and Rodney Marsh were in the lineup and they were managed by Alec Stock who was to steer us to the FA Cup Final just 8 years later. Stock had taken over at Fulham in the summer of 1972 and in his second season at the helm found himself up against a former Fulham boss in the Third Round of the League Cup. Bobby Robson had a stellar career as a Fulham player in his two spells at the club but when he was given the job as manager in January 1968 it was a poisoned chalice. We’d flirted with relegation on a regular basis in the 1960’s and Robson inherited a poor squad that had seen good players all too regularly sold off; the aforementioned Rodney Marsh being a case in point. Robson couldn’t keep us up and when the next season started poorly he was unceremoniously sacked.
His next job was at Ipswich Town where he was afforded the time and patience to build a managerial career that became the stuff of legend. His first return to the Cottage after his untimely departure came almost 50 years ago to the day when he brought his first division Ipswich side down for what looked to be an enthralling tie. Stock had already had a positive affect on us as we established ourselves in the second division while Robson had built an entertaining side that was to go from strength to strength in the second half of the 70’s and early 80’s. In those days the League Cup was taken very seriously so there was no question of players being rested or rotated. Anticipation was further stoked by the original Tuesday night game being postponed by fog. The authorities were far more flexible back then and the game was rearranged for the following night, Wednesday 31 October 1973.
The visitors were quickly in to their stride with Trevor Whymark giving them the lead. However, our talismanic captain Alan Mullery soon equalised with a trademark strike and he followed up by crossing for Les Barrett to head us into an interval lead.
We continued to take the game to our opponents in the second half and Barrett came agonisingly close to a third when his shot hit the upright only to roll across the goal rather than in. Clive Woods made sure the price was a heavy one with an equaliser that took the sides back to Suffolk for a replay a fortnight later.
The Fulham team that night was:
Malcolm Webster; John Cutbush, Alan Slough, Paul Went, John Lacy; John Conway, Alan Mullery, Barry Lloyd, Les Barrett; John Mitchell, Viv Busby. Sub:David Moreline.
Once again Stock’s men gave a good account of themselves and Steve Earle’s first half goal gave us hope of a shock victory. Unfortunately for us the home team responded after the break to seal a narrow win courtesy of goals from Mick Mills and Colin Viljoen.
The replay lineup had just two changes with Jimmy Dunne replacing Lacy who dropped to the bench and Steve Earle coming in for Busby.
Our paths crossed in the League Cup again in the 1996-97 season. Micky Adams was already getting a tune out of his rag tag army that was to get promoted that term and Simon Morgan gave us the lead at the Cottage in our Second Round first leg tie. Sadly that was as good as it got. Ipswich made the two division gap tell with a second half equaliser before winning the second leg 4-2 at Portman Road.
Our third and most recent League Cup encounter took place in September 2020 in a Second round clash at Portman Road. Covid restrictions meant the game took place behind closed doors and the match was settled by an Aleksandar Mitrovic header just before half-time. It was the Serbian’s 50th goal for Fulham in just his 102nd match and came from a cross from Kenny Tete who was making his debut that night.
With Ipswich going great guns on their return to the Championship we know that we’re in for a very tough game tonight. We can only hope that Marco Silva’s selection can come up trumps and give us a place in the last eight and a shot at maybe going even further… it wouldn’t be before time!